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HRM TV: The dangers of living in the past

We often get told to ‘live in the present’, but the reality is it’s hard to follow this advice. What are the dangers of this? Vlogger Ricky Nowak asks just that question.

I recently overheard a group of old friends reminisce about their shared childhood experiences at school 35 years ago. I couldn’t help but be drawn into their conversation as they relived their delicious, naughty past as though it happened just yesterday.

They delighted in their tales about teachers and troubles and their visual portrayals made me feel like I was there among them. They seemed to yearn for those days and agreed unanimously that was the best time of their lives – no responsibility, no care, no issues.

But I truly wonder if they thought that when they struggled with homework, dreaded sitting in class with a teacher they didn’t like or felt the mounting pressure of exams.

It seems to me that memory is a powerful phenomenon that messes with our imagination, and our recall is directly based on our experiences and emotions at the time.

We often remember the past in a slightly distorted fashion and yearn for something that might not have been our experience. The conversation I overheard is almost parallel to those I have heard previously when people mourn over the way things were, in preference to today’s relentless winds of change.

Yet in today’s disruptive workplace I’m noticing other issues. While we might not necessarily mourn the past and can let it go, we don’t appear to truly live in the present either. I fear we are trying to live in the future without appreciating our current state and being grateful for it.

My concern is that many businesses do not understand what the future looks like, so even if they ‘arrive’, they might not know they are there. They could be in fact in search of a fictitious Holy Grail that will never satisfy their quest for future excellence. Perhaps the notion of the perfect future will get in the way of progress and even let them down along the way.

Who knows but we can find out for ourselves.

So here are a few questions for you to consider as you think about where you sit right now.

  • Do you feel like Dr Doolittle’s ‘Pushmi Pullyu’ – not knowing which way to go?
  • Do you fast forward into the next scene too quickly without appreciating your progress and while it may not perfect are you allowing it to get in the way of your success?
  • Or are you in fact suffering from premature exasperation when things go too slowly?

So let me ask you: Where are you in all of this and more to the point, where do you want to be? Comment below if you want to share.

This video is part of a series of vlogs on big ideas and leadership in HR. Check back for bits of wisdom to keep you focused and moving forward at work. Have a question, a tip to share or a topic to discuss? Tweet using the #fivebigideas hashtag or email Ricky at

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